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Lead mining

Lead mining was once the main industry in parts of the Dales, including Wharfedale. From the seventeenth century to the late nineteenth it employed hundreds of men and boys, exploiting the veins in the limestone at Greenhow, Hebden, Grassington, Linton and Conistone, Appletreewick and elsewhere.

The smelting of the ore had a dramatic effect on the countryside. Writing in 1885, of the Grassington mines, Joseph Lucas said: "Formerly the hill-side, for hundreds of acres around, was destitute of verdure, as every green thing was killed by the poisonous vapours. No sheep or cattle could be safely pastured on the adjoining hill-sides, as the wind frequently carried the smoke long distances and affected everything on which it fell."

Later the introduction of long flues, reaching up the hillsides, within which the vapour could condense and from which pure lead could be recovered, improved matters: "The hill-side is green again"

The heaps of mining waste remain, contaminated with lead, and on which little will grow. The few plants that will are known as 'lead plants' - spring sandwort and alpine penny-cress.

Spring sandwort is characteristic of limestone areas, where it grows on scree, pavements and grassland as well as old lead mines. It requires reduced competition, and the bare spoil heaps suit it well. Its British distribution centres on northern England, on the limestone, but it is also found in north Wales, the Peak District, the west of Ireland and scattered areas of Scotland and England.

Unlike the commoner spring sandwort, alpine penny-cress is almost entirely restricted to rocks or soils enriched with lead or zinc. It is found on the lead spoil heaps and also river gravels, and, rarely, on outcrops of rocks which contain metals. Again, its main centre of distribution is in the northern Pennines. It can be fairly easily distinguished from other penny-cresses by its violet anthers. It does not actually require lead to grow - lead is normally toxic to plants, reducing root cell division, for example - but has developed an ability to grow there and to enjoy the reduced competition from other plants.

Some other plants have developed 'ecotypes' which can tolerate heavy metals, among them thrift and wavy-hair grass.

At Hawkswick Wood alpine penny-cress can be found on old mine spoil at the western end of the site. The numerous small-scale workings on Malham and Kilnsey Moors support both alpine penny-cress and spring sandwort. Spring sandwort is also to be found on the old lead spoil heaps around Greenhow and Hebden.

With thanks to :
Wharfedale Naturalists' Society

 

Wharfedale Brewery

I think I should make it my mission in life to visit hallowed ground at least once a year, and so my pilgrimage this time was to the Wharfdale Brewery, tucked away between Rylstone and Hetton. I spoke to Adam Witek, who is Head Brewer there, and he kindly talked me through the brewing process in great detail...

Brewing Process

We take in malt, which is essentially barley that's been grown...well you remember those school experiments where you had a kidney bean and you dropped it on blotting paper and it started to shoot? Well that's what you do to make malt. They take barley from the field, it's dried, then they grow it very slightly, so you get a very short shoot and a couple of rootlets. Just a couple of millimetres and when that happens they then dry it off and kiln it. In other words they heat it in an oven. That produces the darker colours and the different types which you can get.

The reason why they malt it, is that barley's very hard, it's like small stones, so when you malt it, it then becomes what's called the endosperm where the starch reserves are for the plant to grow, they actually become sugars. And that's what's important to us, sugar - remember that as we'll come back to that later.

So we get malt in, malted barley, and it's been ground, it's been crushed for us - we haven't got a milll here - and it arrives here in bags. We have pale ale malt, which is our basic malt that we use, then we have a variety of other type of malts and materials to add to that to make our recipe. There's amber malt in there, there's crystal malt, (crystal malt tastes of toffee, caramel type of taste) chocolate malt, (actually does taste of chocolate) amber malt (tastes of coffee, essentially, but with a dry nose.) So by having a different amount of each type, you can alter the flavour you get at the end of your beermaking process. So that's the malt side.

We have hops also, crushed flowerheads from the hop plant, but hops don't have flowers they have what's called green cones. Inflorescence bracta it's actually called, and if you imagine this is like a cone, very much like a pine cone but it's been compressed down, dried and pressed. The important part to us is not all the green material, but right in the centre, this yellowy material. Have a sniff of that...This is actually, Northdown hops, and we use Goldings for later on when we want to get the flavour. Now, when you rub hops, now have a smell... it's intense isn't it? It's that intense oil and resin that we want to get out of it. So this green material is largely pointless to us. This yellow stuff called the lupin gland, that's what we need to extract.

The other very important raw material we have is water. It comes from a deep bore hole just to the side of the brewery here. It's approximately 54 metres deep, the water table is between 21 and 26 metres down. It's very deep. It goes right beyond the shale into the bedrock here, and it's obviously been there for thousands, perhaps millions of years. It's naturally filtered through the limestone. We could not have better water. It's untreated, the only other thing we do, it's not really a filter, we take the water up as it is, but we have what's called a particle bug just in case anything does come up with the water. So thats it.

Lets go into the brewing process itself. This is the first part of the brewing process. In here, what looks like a hot tub, the copper clad vessel called the mash tun, very much like mashing tea, we're going to be adding the crushed malt to water. We empty the bags of crushed malt into this hopper, then there's a tube fitted with a pipe, like so, and hot water comes from a tank which is the bore-hole water, heated up. We let the malt fall down the chute, and within the pipe is a smaller pipe which squirts and sprays the hot water onto the malt as it falls down, so that as it enters the mash tun its a kind of porridge consistency. The water has to be warm for the enzymes in the malt to actually break down the sugars and starches into more sugars.

By malting the barley we've only gone so far down the process. We want to extract as much sugar as possible later on for the yeast to make it into alcohol. So we've mashed it all in we've mixed the barley and the water together, we've allowed it to stand for between an hour and an hour and a half. Then we drain it off and pump it into the vessel over in the corner, called the copper. Here we collect all the extracted sugary solution from the mash tun and, using these heating elements inside, we boil it for about 90 minutes. At three different stages we add hops, charges of hops, to add the bitterness, and the hop aroma to our beers.

Hops are an interesting plant variety, very closely related to cannabis. It's part of the same family, so you have resins, and the resins give you the bitterness, and the hop oil gives you the aroma. But hops aren't addictive. Hops were originally used as a preservative. They allowed brewers to brew beer in the autumn and the spring, .... and it would help the beer keep over that summer period. Hops have a natural antibiotic action to them too.

After boiling, we then pass it through a cooler, and you can see there's a sequence of plates all pressed together there, if you can imagine that hot liquid comes down one side of the plate and cold water from the bore hole will go up another side, so every alternate plate has got hot water in it, and every other has got cold water. What we're doing is, as cold water's coming up from the borehole, its cooling down the hot liquid from there to go into the fermenter. But we're heating up the cold water for the next days brew, too.

Providing we're brewing on a routine basis, we actually generate our own hot water for the next days brews. From there, the liquid goes into one of our fermenters. The reason why we have to cool it down first is...obviously yeast is a living organism, it won't tolerate high temperatures. So we cool the sugary solution down to 20 degress C, then we allow a full 7 days fermentation, where the yeast is added to the sweetwort, and we allow it to ferment. The yeast first grows, it multiplies, then it starts to convert the sugars into alcohol. We do it nice and slowly, over 7 days, 3 to5 for the main fermentation, then another 2 or 3 to get it cool and allow the yeast to settle out.

Once it's finished fermenting, we then transfer it to one of our conditioning tanks outside, where it stays for 1 or 2 days, again, for the flavours to modify, before we rack it or .... clean cask. We have a chemical cask washer that sprays detergent and water into the cask to ensure that everything is spotlessly clean.

It is a small unit; people are sometimes surprised that we can send out so much beer with so little space here. You have to remember it's a traditional craft industry. People used to do this in their kitchens, or whatever. Calrlsberg ? ...he started off using his mother's washing bin. So you're essentially doing this the way people have for hundreds of years !

I've tried to keep it really simple, keep all the traditional values, and don't use anything that I don't need to use. Thats about it really.

"And its obviously working, you're winning awards and selling plenty beer...?"
We're doing very well indeed, thank you.

"How long's the whole process from start to finish?"
Brewing takes approx 10 hours, fermentation 6 or 7 days, conditioning in the cask takes 1 to 2 days, so within 7 to 8 days from start of brewing to getting the beer out. Hopefully the landlord will give it between 3 and 5 days in the cellar to condition it in the cask, hence the name 'cask conditioned' beer.
You put what's called a porous plug, like a piece of wood, into the top of the cask, and that allows the yeast to work again within the cask.
To produce further flavour changes you add exta ingredients at the end. Then it's fine to serve. Once we've separated the grains out from the mash tun, the grains remaining that we simply cant do anything else with, we bag them up and they go to local farmers.

"You're quite eco friendly and green?"
Yes, we are. The detergent and spillages that we have go down the drain, they go into two septic tanks which are like interceptor and digestor tanks for want of a better word, so it breaks down some of the detergents and sugars, then it goes into a reed bed. So we then use the grown reeds to purify the effluent before it goes into the watercourse. The key term nowadays is to have minimal environmental impact, and we do look at that. The water and the energy that we use, how much material we use. Trying to act sensibly and hopefully with my knowledge of bigger breweries, bring it into a small scale and just make sure that we operate economicaly and in an eco-friendly manner.

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